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In Name and Form Only


One hundred and forty years ago, J. C. Ryle made an observation that should sound familiar to us:

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I think there can be no question that there is an immense difference among those who profess and call themselves Christians. Beyond all dispute there are always two classes in the outward Church: the class of those who are Christians in name and form only, and the class of those who are Christians in deed and in truth. All were not Israel who were called Israel, and all are not Christians who are called Christians. . . . Some worship God as a mere form, and some in spirit and in truth. Some give their hearts to God, and some give them to the world. Some believe the Bible, and live as if they believed it: others do not. Some feel their sins and mourn over them: others do not. Some love Christ, trust in Him, and serve Him: others do not. In short, as Scripture says, some walk in the narrow way, some in the broad; some are the good fish of the Gospel net, some are the bad; some are the wheat in Christ’s field, and some are the tares.

I think no man with his eyes open can fail to see all this, both in the Bible, and in the world around him. Whatever he may think about the subject I am writing of, he cannot possibly deny that this difference exists.

—J. C. Ryle, Knots Untied (Banner of Truth, 2016), 124–125.

The reason for the difference should be obvious.

Now what is the explanation of the difference? I answer unhesitatingly, Regeneration, or being born again. I answer that true Christians are what they are, because they are regenerate, and formal Christians are what they are, because they are not regenerate. The heart of the Christian in deed has been changed. The heart of the Christian in name only, has not been changed. The change of heart makes the whole difference.

Ibid., 125.

We should expect the number of these formal Christians to be much smaller in churches that practice biblically meaningful membership, but even then, there will be some unregenerate members along with (we should hope) unconverted nonmembers. This means that our mission field is not only out there in the world, but inside each church, as well. We can never assume that everyone sitting in our pews are converted. We can never stop preaching, “You must be born again.”



Posted 2017·06·01 by David Kjos
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Posted in: J C Ryle · Knots Untied · Regeneration · Saving Faith

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